Parents of emerging readers are entering into an exciting time as they watch their child unlock the meaning behind all those squiggles and dots.
In addition to overwhelming pride, parents might also feel confused over their changing role in the reading process. Linda Bausch, Ed.D, an assistant professor at Dowling College in Oakdale, N.Y., has many strategies for parents who are eager to help their developing reader without sounding critical or overbearing to sensitive young ears. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind the next time you read with your child:
As a seasoned reader (and a parent), your first inclination might be to jump in and help when your child struggles to figure out a sentence. Bausch recommends instead that you try asking the child three important questions:
- Does that sound right?
- Does that look right?
- Does that make sense?
“These key questions enable the child to begin to construct meaning and to eventually become independent in his use of reading strategies,” says Bausch. “I also like to ask if they simply cannot decode or sound out the word, ‘What would make sense there?’”
When it comes to pronunciation, Bausch favors a similar “hand over the responsibility to the child first” approach. “I think it is important for a parent to tell the child the pronunciation of a word when asked. But, that said, what I think is extraordinarily important is for the parent to first ask, ‘What do you think it is?’ and/or ‘What do you think it sounds like?’”
Remember too that illustrations are great helpers. Bausch encourages enjoying the pictures as part of the whole reading experience. “Talking about the pictures, making predictions as to what is coming next, looking at the character’s expressions are all incredibly important strategies that readers use to help them construct meaning and to comprehend the story.”
Parents know that the quickest route between two points is a straight line, but we also know that children oftentimes don’t care to follow that path. Side comments and other detours might be bothersome to a parent trying to read with a child, but Bausch actually loves them.
“When a child makes comments and tangential connections, it is time for response and respect!” states Bausch. “Those comments or asides are actually the proof that the child is transacting with the text! When a child responds to reading, parents should take comfort in the fact that they know their reader definitely gets it.”
But what should you do when your child just doesn’t seem to “get” a story or piece of text? The solution may be as simple as finding new material. Sure, your child may really want to read the Harry Potter series, but he may not be at that reading level quite yet. Likewise, he may have picked out a story about baseball from the library because his friends are into the sport, but his own interests might be more geared towards science fiction. Teachers and librarians may be able to offer suggestions on more age-appropriate, interest-sustaining titles.
“The lack of comprehension can also be due to the fact that the child does not have any experiential background or knowledge to bring to the reading to help him or her construct meaning,” says Bausch. “They may be able to ‘say’ the words but the problem is that they cannot put them all together to understand what they mean.” Asking a child what he is interested in and then providing those kinds of texts can be helpful in this situation.
If these suggestions do not make a change in the child’s ability to read, Bausch recommends speaking to the professionals at the child’s school. They may be able to offer additional support and ideas geared specifically to your child’s individual needs.
Now that your daughter no longer “needs” you to read Goodnight Moon, do you still have a place in her reading life? Absolutely.
“I think it is important for an older child to spend some time reading aloud to a parent and for a parent to continue to read aloud to the child,” says Bausch. “As children move up in the grades the texts they are reading become more demanding and sophisticated. Oftentimes there is a dialect to be negotiated, ‘voices’ to be heard, and punctuation to be understood . . . . Practicing fluency by reading aloud, hearing as well as saying the words, encourages the internalization of language.”
Parents are also vital in other ways: providing magazines, newspapers, and other reading material in the home; asking children about what they are reading in school in order to generate excitement and literary conversations; looking out for spur-of-the-moment reading opportunities such as road signs, food labels, and menus; and taking children to the library on a regular basis. But perhaps the greatest way a parent can influence a child’s attitude towards reading is by being a role model.
“A child, whether younger or older, will see that reading is important to a parent or caregiver if he sees them reading,” says Bausch. “If you love to read and are curious about your world, your child will be too!”